The Coopers of Cooperstown

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(Detail) William Cooper, ca. 1795. Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828). Gift of Dr. Henry S.F. Cooper. Collection of the Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

The Cooper name has been tied to the Otsego Lake region for more than ten generations. It is here that a special bond united a family with the land, prompting a vision that inspired a great American literary tradition and fostered the growth of a small village and its surrounding environs. Lake Otsego and its surrounding landscape continue to be animated by the same spirit that enamored the Cooper family. While William Cooper's fortitude introduced the splendor of the region, the prose of his descendants captures the harmony with the landscape enjoyed by both visitors and residents today.

William's sixth and best-known son, James Fenimore Cooper, is considered to be America's first novelist. Born in 1789, he never intended to be a writer. After attending Yale for a short time, the younger Cooper took to the open sea first as a common sailor, and later as a Navy midshipman. After his marriage to Susan Augusta DeLancey, he returned to Cooperstown and settled at Fenimore Farm, the site of the Fenimore Art Museum, as a gentleman farmer. On a dare from his wife, Cooper wrote his first novel, Precaution, in 1820. Though the novel received little recognition, Cooper went on to great public acclaim with his following works and authored over 52 books, his most famous being a volume of five works known collectively as The Leatherstocking Tales. Much of James Fenimore Cooper's writing can be seen as an illumination of his childhood experiences in and around Lake Otsego and the surrounding area.